Perhaps this is a sequel (or prequel) to my prior post, which reflects the ultimate thinning out of a collection. Certainly it’s something that’s been on my mind as I’ve sorted through cards, old and new, and every now and then landed a card I couldn’t wait to display somewhere only to find no vacancy in the “man cave.”
This made a post from a fellow SABR member particularly apropos this morning.
I definitely have too much stuff. Some would even say way too much stuff. And yet, like most collectors, I am always looking to add more.
Back in 2015 or so I made a rule that strikes me today as quite healthy. I’d only buy cards I planned to display. I recognized back then that almost none of my enjoyment of cards came from the dozens of boxes on my shelves, no matter what they contained: complete sets, near complete sets, assorted Dodgers, etc.
Since then I stretched the definition of display to include cards in binders, which I genuinely do enjoy, but I also managed to accumulate an awful lot more of what I don’t enjoy, at least not actively: cards in boxes, cards in piles, cards I forgot I had, etc.
PART ONE: BULK
The term “bulk” might not do justice to these cards since after all there are some nice complete sets among them, many of which I worked hard to build from packs and trades when I was younger. Still, truth is truth. I used to enjoy these cards a lot but today not so much.
Ultimately I think there are three reasons collectors hang on to their bulk.
They haven’t come to terms with how little they enjoy it.
They’re reluctant to take a loss, either compared to what they paid, what they think the cards are worth, or what they think the cards could be worth later.
Doing nothing generally takes far less effort than doing something.
While the best solution depends centrally on the collector, my recommendation, which I do plan to follow, is this.
Take the time to snap some pics and offer it all for local pickup using a service like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist.
Price to sell, but don’t feel the need to take pennies on the dollar, at least not right away.
But do be prepared to lower the price a good 10% or so each week until everything is gone.
I’ll add that selling all the bulk as a single listing is far less work and hassle than selling piecemeal, though this approach will take some money out of your pocket.
PART TWO: THE GOOD STUFF
If my only goal we’re to have less, I could stop there and feel great. However, I am also confronting the reality that most of the cards I want right now are fairly pricey and beyond what I can spend in good conscience. (This term means different things to different people. In my case, it generally means $40 or so.) As such, I’m taking a hard look at selling some of the very best stuff in my collection to free up money I can spend on what I at least think I want more.
Two examples are my Cuban Mel Ott card from 1946-47 and my autographed 1952 Mother’s Cookies Mel Ott. I freaking LOVE Mel Ott, and I’ve spent several years building up my Mel Ott collection. On the other hand, at least lately, I’ve decided I love Carl Hubbell even more.
Plus, my two Mel Ott cards are slabbed, which I know is an added bonus for many collectors (if not de rigueur) but for me segregates them from my beloved “old cards” binder. (I do know there are sheets sized for slabs, but the point is I’d want my Mel Ott cards on the same page(s) as my other Mel Ott cards.)
So is it the plan to sell these Mel Ott cards (and others!) to buy more Hubbell? As I type this I’m still deciding. Similar decisions await me as the owner of three Brooklyn Dodger team sets, all missing the most expensive card: 1909-11 T206 minus Dahlen, 1911 T205 minus Wilhelm, and 1955 Topps minus Koufax. Could the Bird-Magic rookie I pulled as a kid help me complete any of those sets?
I’ve also very recently taken a liking to early Pacific Coast League cards of the Los Angeles area teams: the Angels of course but also the Vernon/Venice Tigers.
Would I give up the nicer of my two Albert Einstein “rookie cards” to go well beyond the four T212 Obak beaters I currently have?
At the moment, this INCREDIBLE card lives in a box and is downright neglected compared to its double that I enjoy each time I open that “old cards” binder.
This is not about blowing up my collection or getting rid of everything. I see it more as optimizing my collection. Where my current collection (mostly) reflects the cards that gave me the most joy at the time I acquired them, is there a chance to reshape it into a collection that gives me more joy now?
Unlike shedding bulk, the decisions here can’t be taken lightly. They’re a gamble. What if I’m wrong? What if a second page of vintage Hubbell cards isn’t all I imagine it to be? Yes, I’d love to complete my T205 Brooklyn set, but who trades a gorgeous Einstein rookie for a beat up Kaiser Freaking Wilhelm? Yes, I’d love to add the 1952 Bowman Brooklyn set to my binder but would I give up a Roy Campanella rookie card to make it happen? Jeez, this is scary territory, and I don’t really know the answers.
Still, I expect to follow some version of this in the coming months, if not as early as tonight’s vintage sales thread hosted by SABR member Dylan Brennan. I’m sure I’ll make some bad decisions along the way, but the good news is I don’t have to bat 1.000 here. I just need to get more right than wrong. And besides, it’s only cardboard. (Wait, did I really say that just now? Strike that remark from the record! Where’s the backspace? Where’s the undo? Somebody call a doctor!)
Most of the baseball card collectors I knew as a kid eventually outgrew their collections in favor of girls, cars, college, drugs, or any number of other things more grown up. Not me though. And if you’re reading this article, my guess is not you either. We may just keep on collecting till the day we die.
But then what?
On days when my thoughts drift a bit dark I imagine myself in the past tense as my wife and son examine the mighty cardboard empire still occupying their basement. The thought of throwing it all away, as abhorrent as it may seem, might well be a frontrunner in their minds, particularly given the time and effort it would take to figure out what’s valuable and how to sell it.
Yes, I think they both know I have some valuable cards, but which ones? Are they the ones framed on the walls? Some, but I can only imagine the response they’d get if they hauled my framed (and glued!) collection of 1989 Topps Dodgers to the local card shop hoping for a life-changing offer.
What about the cards on the shelf? Good news for them if they grab my 1954 Topps Jackie Robinson. Not as good news if they grab my Gummy Arts Joe Kelly or Project 70 Cody Bellinger.
How about my binders? Let’s just hope they grab the one with my T206 and 1933 Goudey and not my 1981 Fleer Star Stickers set.
Way back when, I never imagined I’d ever need a plan for my cards beyond passing the collection on to my son. Little did I know he’d have no interest in cards at all. I asked him a few years ago what he would do if he ended up with my card collection. Only half jokingly he told me he’d burn the Dodgers and sell the rest, which is of course as heartbreaking as it is hilarious.
So is there plan? No, not yet, but I’m at least starting to think through some ideas.
My guess is that my collection, like most collections, follows some version of the 80-20 rule. That is, nearly the entire value of my collection resides in a rather small fraction of my cards. Simply making and sharing a Google Sheet of the 10 most valuable cards (or perhaps sets) in my collection, along with instructions on where to find them and how to sell them, allows my wife or son to spend minutes rather than months going through my cards and still end up with a pretty good payday.
What’s left after that would still be a shame to throw out but likely not worth my family’s time to figure out. My idea here is that there might be a small number of short lists that my wife or a friend could attempt to honor—kind of a “baseball card will.”
For example, my 1952 Dallas Eagles signed baseball would go to the family of Dave Hoskins, and my Diamond Stars Brooklyn set would go to Chad who runs the Dodger Cards twitter account. I’d also love it if my SABR Chicago friends came by and grabbed some cards too, whether a handful or a car full.
Beyond that, could it be that the simplest and most sensible thing to do would be to throw the rest away? The most important thing is that my cards don’t become a burden to my family, so I can’t discount the idea entirely. Still, I’d probably encourage one of two alternatives if easy enough to accomplish.
When the time comes, will I have any collector friends who would want everything left enough to come haul it away for free? And if not, even putting it all on Facebook Marketplace for some nominal amount spares my family some work and hopefully puts a ton of cards with someone who values them.
A final angle I’ll mention is museums or other venues where cards might be enjoyed by the masses. To have any of my cards go this route would be an incredible honor but ultimately an unlikely one. The reality here is that very few donations of cards or memorabilia ever end up on display, instead collecting dust in a warehouse or storage room. I’m also sober enough about my collection to recognize that nearly nothing of mine is of museum quality.
That said, let me know, Hank Aaron Museum, if you’d have room on your walls for Mr. Aaron’s career in cardboard…
…and let me know, Dodgers, if my favorite stadium could use some additional décor.
While I don’t dislike the planning I’ve just laid out, I know a much more courteous approach with my collection is to dispose of it before I die rather than kick the can down the road for loved ones to deal with. The challenge of course, since death is generally unplanned, is to know when to do this. I’d like to think it’s when I no longer enjoy my collection, but gosh, that could be never, and it’s most certainly not yet.
How about you? How are you tackling the topic? Let the rest of us know in the comments.
UPDATE: Inspired by this post, I just put together my “baseball card will.” It more or less turned out how I described it above, but I ended up listing more than just ten cards to sell. It may well be more like a few hundred now but many are kept together (e.g., 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set) so I still think my wife or son could find and gather everything in under an hour.
One of my oldest card collecting projects dates back to college and began, if I remember correctly, with a book I no longer have. The book was one of many along the theme of “baseball’s greatest players” but was particularly nice in that it included full-page photographs of every player.
In a move that perhaps foretold my joining SABR 30 years later, my roommate and I made copies of 50 of the pictures and arranged them nearly floor to ceiling to create our apartment’s own “Wall of Fame.” I recall we even put some care into the ordering of the players with the occasional new insight from “Total Baseball” prompting a reordering ceremony from time to time.
Soon after, we also began pinning our best baseball cards onto bulletin boards. (Don’t panic. The pins only went thru the penny sleeves.) Thanks to the Kit Young mail order catalog and a dealer named “Big John” who frequented local shows, we were able to update our Boards quite frequently. Naturally, any change to the Board was a major event in our apartment.
Following our graduation, my roommate eventually moved south and I moved north, which spelled the end of my Board. As remains the case today, most of my joy in collecting involved sharing the Hobby with others. In my new environment I didn’t have any friends who collected, so my grad school décor switched to Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
Fast forward two decades to 2014. I lived alone much of the week, had all kinds of time on my hands, and had just realized you could buy almost any baseball card you wanted on the internet. Unlike my college days where I made $6 an hour grading math homework, I now had a “real job,” hence real money to spend. This of course meant only one thing.
The Board was back!
Or should I say the Boards were back? I went with two display cases to fill side by side, setting the table (or rather the wall) for what I now call my “Top 100” project. Both Boards have seen numerous changes over the past eight years, typically prompted by a desire to add a player or set I didn’t already have.
For example, just last week I was able to swap out my 1935 Diamond Stars Joe Medwick card for his card from the 1938 Goudey set, thereby adding another classic set to my display. (Insert your own bad pun about getting my Duckies in a row.)
This Board and the 1958-81 version that hangs next to it are favorites in my collection for a couple reasons. One is simply that the cards themselves are wonderful. The other is that these Boards connect my present day collecting to my past. What else in my life did I begin at age 20 that I’m still working on past age 50? Among that which is tangible on this Earth, only myself and my card collection, and certainly more the latter if we’re being honest.
Even beyond the two reasons given, there is a third reason these Boards are as central as they are to my collection. Simply put, the Board uniquely defines who I am as a collector. As with fingerprints, I suspect no two collectors would ever possess the same Board. Really, who would even dispute such a claim, particularly if the collections in question amounted to 50 or 100 cards? However, I tend to think the claim holds even limited to five cards.
Following the craze of this past month or so, here is what my cardle might look like. (Two new cards from other displays make an appearance here.)
What would your cardle be?
Same card (player AND set) as mine: Give yourself a green!
Same player (different set) as mine: Give yourself a yellow!
Naturally I’ll look forward to seeing your results all over my social feeds. 😊
In 1969 a boy or girl could go to the store to buy baseball cards, discover that they did not yet have the new series, and instead spend his hard-earned nickels on baseball stamps. The stamps were not “inserts”, they were sold separately. For 5 cents, you could get a stick of gum, a 12 stamp panel (perforated for easy separation) and a team album in which you could place 10 stamps. If this makes you think of hot dogs, you are not alone.
If you bought a single pack, you might get this Cleveland Indians album, but no Cleveland Indians stamps. What good is that? It was a model that essentially required that you buy more packs if you wanted to collect them. Lots more packs. To complete the set (I know of no one who did this, or even really tried to do this) you would need to buy at least 24 packs to get the 24 albums. This would give you 288 stamps. Each of the team albums needed 10 stamps, so if you were incredibly lucky you’d fill up your albums and have 48 extra stamps.
Topps could have made this a lot easier by creating 20 unique panels, each with a non-overlapping group of 12 stamps. Collect these 20 panels, and you have your stamps. “Hey, I am missing the one with Tommy Davis in the upper-left, do you have that one?” Easy-peasy.
First of all, the panels came in one of two different configurations: either 6 rows of 2, or 2 rows of 6.
My memory is that in Southeastern Connecticut we got the vertical configuration. If either configuration is folded in thirds, the resulting 2×2 shape is the size of a standard baseball card, and fit nicely in the pack.
Second, the master sheets were not divided in a consistent way. There are many more than 20 possible sheets, so kids would have to trade individual stamps to complete their Indians booklet. In the below panel, the left-most four stamps are the same as the rightmost four above.
It was not completely random. If you get a horizontal panel with Larry Dierker in the upper left, you got this 12-stamp configuration. And apparently there are ways to put together a full set with 20 panels of 12 stamps, though I have not tried to figure out who the magic “upper left” players are that will allow you to do this. (If you have the answer, please let me know in the comments.) More likely, you will collect a bunch of panels with overlapping populations, so you will need a lot of stamps.
If you take a look at some of these hatless and black-hat photos, you will recognize that you are in 1969. As a reminder, that year Topps was beset with four new expansion teams, problems with the Astros, and a player boycott, and many of these photos were a few years old. You can tell that the stamps came out early in the spring, because all of the 1969 photo issues are in play.
We also know these were put together early by looking at how Topps handled Hoyt Wilhelm. Wilhelm was a great pitcher destined for the Hall of Fame, but he was 46 years old and beginning the nomadic phase of his career. He was pitching very well (1.73 ERA in 93 innings in 1968), but after the season the White Sox did not protect him in the expansion draft. Who’s going to draft a 46-year-old?
On October 15, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the draft. On December 12 he was traded to the Angels. Meaning that he was property of the Royals for 58 days.
During these 58 days, Topps put together the Royals album and the Wilhelm stamp.
Topps used Wilhelm’s likeness in a few other sets that year. In the 1969 flagship he was in the sixth series (late summer) and is on the Angels. He is in the decal set as an Angel. He in on the Angels team poster. The only other time he shows up as a Royal is in the deckle-edged set. Although his team name is not listed, we know he is a Royal because of how the checklist is laid out –he was the only Royal. In fact, his trade to the Angels (and Topps desire to have every team represented) caused Topps to replace him in the set with Joe Foy, one of two “variations” in that set. (The other, Rusty Staub giving way to Jim Wynn, was the result of Staub’s trade to the Expos and the need for an Astro deckle.)
Of these five items, four use the same photo, but the stamp (Royals) was most likely designed first, then the deckle-edged (Royals, replaced), then the poster and flagship (Angels), and then the decal (different image, with Angel hat/uniform drawn on).
OK, so what’s the point? The point, as always, is whether (and how) I would want to collect all of this today. Over the years I have realized that I really like the look of the stamp panels and I have haphazardly been “collecting” them. By which I mean if I see one (horizontal) at a decent price that I don’t already have I will attempt to acquire it. I have 17 different, though the prices, like everything else, have risen sharply recently. On occasion I will see a large sheet of 240 stamps which I would hang in my house except that I’d have to sell my house to afford the sheet.
I have also collected a complete set of 24 team booklets, with all stamps affixed. This is actually pretty affordable, though not as attractive or as easy to display. In this area, at least, I might side with @vossbrink’s view on the desirability of collectibles that have been used for their intended purpose. Or maybe I am just playing both sides, wanting the panels in their original configuration, but wanting the albums “used”. By this method, I own all the stamps, and can collect the panels without much regard for the player details.
As I mentioned recently with respect to the 1970/71 scratch-offs, the Topps offerings in this period are quite messy. But the mess is mainly trying to get it right (getting players on the right team, or in the right hat), not trying to rip off kids with chase cards and parallels and pieces of uniform. It was a better mess, in my view.
Grass cutting money is how it was paid for. One of the kids in the neighborhood knew a guy. He would come to the house with binders of the old stuff. We would peruse through and buy the goods. From this came my 1956 Jackie Robinson. It was a nice example of the last card from his playing days, probably Vg-Ex if you’re grading at home, good color, centered well. I was into card collecting, working on the new stuff and researching the old. It wasn’t as easy as it’s been the last 10–15 years with all the interweb and eBay and Twitter Trading and gargantuan national and regional card shows – once this Covid/Lockdown has run its course, or course, on the latter. Back then a young collector needed his old man’s or older brother’s cards or maybe his older sister’s current flame to possibly be a conduit for getting to the older stuff. Of those options, zippo came through for me. No brothers and since I was a bit of a surprise to my 40 year old parents and soon to be graduating high school sister in May of 1965 that left the mid to late 70’s barren in terms of getting the prized shoe box passed down. ads in Baseball Digest. Left to my own devices it was the two local drug stores for Topps, the Winn-Dixie for Hostess and Kellogg’s and trading with other kids until word stated to spread about the Binder Guy. Of course he seemed old in my eyes but was probably in his early 30’s back then and may have ended up being a local owner of one of the card shops that sprung up in Louisville in the early 80’s or worked the shows at the local malls and flea markets we would visit once driving gave the freedom to move around town. It was those binders where I first saw and handled cards I’d only seen in my Sports Collectors Bible or in Reneta Galasso/Larry Frisch
Back to the Jackie, that card in particular provided my first real hard lesson in life about unintended consequences resulting from poor decision making. Why I had such a mental block as to the final outcome I cannot understand to this day but you can be sure that I am an ardent supporter of fully understanding a situation before acting. Laminate, that’s what it said “PROTECT Laminate in PLASTIC”, it read like a major advance for scientific progress as I stood there debating between the three choices I could make with my quarter. An NFL Mini Helmet, one of those Horoscope scrolls or the Laminate. Walking home with a 25 cent investment in the preservation of a then twenty two year old artifact was the act of a person wise beyond his years for Mr. Robinson would be preserved for the ages! There’s no suspense left, by now you have, no doubt, shook your head in disbelief. This goofball actually laminated that card! Yep, I did it. Immediately the profound and irreversible error of my decision fell on me. A personal albatross around my neck, no need to wait for Iron Maiden’s 13 minute 45 second retelling of Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in 1984, oh no! The experience was mine then and there. Selling my collection of cards, including the entombed Jackie, in the Summer of 1983 to fund a not very exciting coming of age trip to Florida provided no exorcism either. To this day I can’t bring bring myself to fold, staple or mutilate a card. While @HeavyJ28 is doing his tremendous work of currently creating custom cards from existing cardboard to raise funds and awareness for some fine causes and museums, this sweet Josh Gibson being an example, I “feel that old familiar pain”, to quote Dan Fogelberg, each time I see his scissors on Twitter. But as with baseball in general, there is always a shot at redemption and when our grandson was born on April 15th 2017 I purchased the card again, albeit in a socially acceptable form of sarcophagus this time.
This one will be passed down in the proverbial shoe box to that grandson one future day along with an explanation of who Jackie Robinson was, the transcendent things he accomplished and why learning from your mistakes can pay greater dividends than the initial loss. Still wish I would have went with the helmet.
Should a reader happen upon this post and currently have the card which they use as an example of idiots in action, please let me know, it calls to me even now. Which is both a Bob Seger and a Barry Manilow reference, but I probably shouldn’t mention that…
I started collecting baseball cards in the late 1970s. The earliest cards I remember having were Brewers from the 1979 Topps set. Unfortunately, though I have obtained them again, I did not hold on to those cards. The card that has been in my possession the longest is a 1980 Jerry Augustine card. And I still remember the first “old” card I got, a 1974 Bill Parsons that I received in a trade in about 1985.
In the 1980s, I bought wax packs, usually Topps, though I did get ‘82 and ‘83 Donruss and ‘85 Fleer. I remember opening the packs and sorting and resorting the cards. Sometimes I sorted them by team, sometimes by position, sometimes by making teams of my favorite players. By the time I was in high school, I started to focus on a collection. I decided that I wanted to collect all of the Topps Brewer cards.
Hunt For Brewer Cards
When I started this collection, Topps had four main sets: Main, Traded, Tiffany, and Traded Tiffany. The two Tiffany sets were almost identical to the other two, except they had a higher quality print. I decided to limit my collection to the Main and Traded sets. I also decided to include the ’69 and ’70 Seattle Pilots.
At the time, the only way to get older cards was to go to a card shop or a card show. I spent many Saturdays at card shows rifling through boxes of older sets looking for Brewers that I did not have. I always brought my notebook that had all of the players that I knew were in each set, helped tremendously by the Topps Baseball Cards of the Milwaukee Brewers picture book that was a giveaway at one of the Brewer games. I still remember the TV commercial for that, with broadcaster Mike Hegan having his 1976 card pointed out.
It took me close to 20 years to complete the set. Now I make two or three orders a year to collect the Series 1, Series 2, and Update sets. Currently, I am only missing one of the 2019 Keston Huira Update cards (#150). I will pick that up when I get the Series 2 cards this summer.
Collecting The Faves
Right around the time I started to get close to completing my Brewer collection, I started to collect cards of my favorite players. I stuck with Topps Main and Update (or Traded) sets. The first players I collected were Ozzie Smith, Jim Gantner, Pudge Rodriguez, and Brooks Robinson.
Of those players, the only cards that I’m missing are of Robinson. I still need his ‘57 rookie card, his ‘67 main card, and a ‘67 checklist that has his picture on it. I have two of each of the Gantner cards, one for my Brewer collection and one for my player collection.
I have since added three other players. I have a complete set of Jonathon Lucroy and Gary Carter, adding to the former when a new card comes out. The other player that I collect is Jose Altuve. I am only missing his 2011 Update rookie card. I’m not sure if I will continue collecting Altuve in light of the cheating scandal.
Gotta Love The Team Portraits
My most recent collection is Topps team portrait cards. They were some of my favorites when I first started collecting. Topps had them almost every year from 1956 through 1981, and then from 2001 through 2007. For some reason, they did not have them in 1969, and some teams were not represented in 1968. Houston had a card in 1963, but did not have another until 1970, when they were renamed from the Colt .45s to the Astros.
The team cards are my favorite to collect right now. All of my other collections are either complete, I’m missing some expensive cards, or are just getting the current cards. The team cards still involve the hunt, trying to find as many as possible in one shop to save on shipping. In all, there are 729 team portrait cards, and I have almost half of them.
Paging Through The Boys Of Summer
There are currently 2,097 cards in my collections, which are currently housed in four binders. I only order cards two or three times a year, but each time I pull out all of the binders and go through them.
Usually, that brings me back to summers spent riding my bike to the store to buy packs of cards. Sometimes it reminds me of a particular Brewer memory. And sometimes I remember being seven years old in the back yard, pretending to play a game with a lineup made up of the names on the back of the team cards.
A few days ago Jason retweeted a photo I put on Twitter last fall showing a framed display of my baseball cards. Jason left out the role he played in my display, so I promised a post on the matter. This is more autobiographical than I am generally comfortable with, but the lessons herein might be of value.
When it comes to baseball cards, I have always considered myself to be a Set Collector. If someone were to gift me a stack of 1950 Bowman cards (no one has ever done this, but for the sake of science why not give it a try?) my reaction would likely be to figure out how many cards I needed to complete the set. Checking just now … I have 19 cards from 1950 Bowman (out of 252), which is 7.5%. I even have a few Hall of Famers. If you give me another 50, suddenly I am over 30% and pretty much committed.
If you’re a Set Collector, a particular set’s “status” is generally defined more by what you don’t have than what you do have. I have been chipping away at my 1956 cards for 35 years–my focus on the set (and on baseball cards generally) has ebbed and flowed over the years. I still need 22, including the Luis Aparicio rookie card, and several difficult team cards (Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cardinals).
But in stating the case this way, didn’t I bury the lede? Should I not instead start with the facts that I own 318 cards from the 1956 set, and that many of them are … kinda spectacular? I am not writing this to brag, but as an admission that I often don’t spend enough time appreciating what I have. For most of the past 30 years, when I have picked up a new 1956 card, even someone like Roberto Clemente, it doesn’t take more than a day or two before I carefully place it out of sight, in a box or binder. “What’s next?”
If a new friend were to walk into my house, it would take them a while to discover I was a baseball fan. There are no baseball artifacts in any of the rooms they’d likely encounter. The main reasons for this: (1) my house is of modest size; (2) other people live here; and (3) they show no signs of leaving. My baseball stuff is mainly confined to a small office that I have gradually taken over without explicit permission.
So last September Jason posted a picture of his display of Hank Aaron cards. It was incredible, both in its inherent beauty and as a visualization of a wonderful collection and tribute. I mean, come on:
I knew Jason was a Hammer GuyTM, and that he had all of his major cards, but to see them all in one display like this was a bit breathtaking.
But I also thought: Hold on a sec, I also have cards.
I called Jason and asked him about the display case, and he filled me in. I quickly suggested to my family that the case would make a handsome birthday gift, and a few short weeks later I was proven correct. After a few days rumination, I filled it with my best cards from 1952-58 Topps and hung it up on the wall.
(Jason, with 50 Aarons plus assorted other superstars, has considerably more WAR in his frame.)
Of my 45 cards, the first I owned were the 1956 Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson, purchased for $50 (total) at a card shop in Minneapolis in 1983. I had most of the others by early 1990s, safely squirreled away.
This display decision has worked out just fine. It remains up in my office, just a few feet from where I am now typing. My family seems OK with it, though my daughter is continually bothered the non-uniformity of the second row. I don’t recall that anyone else has seen it in real life–my office is not a visitor destination. I see it everyday, and I am sure I have looked at my 1953 Satchell [sic] Paige card more in the past seven months than in the previous 30 years I had owned it.
There are downsides.
First, it is not easy to replace cards or moved them around. You have to take the display down from the wall, lay it on a flat surface, open the hinged glass front, adjust the contents, close and re-latch the front, and then carefully place the whole thing back on the wall. I haven’t yet had any reason to change the cards, though I do have dreams of adding another Mays card or two.
A second down-side is its effect on my set collecting. My 1956 binder is now missing not only the 22 cards I need, but also the 9 I removed to put in this frame. What does this binder even mean now, with all of the best cards ripped from its pages? It’s not like I am going to buy second copies of these cards.
An upside to this downside is that it has allowed me to consider my collection in (arguably) a more healthy way. I recently purchased a few cards from 1953 Bowman, which is one of my favorite sets. I have no real intention of completing it, so I will instead just enjoy looking at the 20 or so cards that I own. Which is OK?
In a related matter, I have been mulling over a second display. The 1950s cards are from before I was born, so it stands to reason that a case focused on my sweet spot (say, 1967-71) would afford me some pleasure. Or maybe I could create pick out 50 of my beloved Corsairs and Belters.
The two biggest obstacles: (1) I am not seeing any available wall space around here, and (2) this plan would cause me to remove cards from binders of completed sets. I mean, is this even legal? While contemplating all of that, I wait.
In our little Twitter community, I have seen card displays devoted to T-205s, or of Dave Parker, or of Milwaukee Brewers. They all look amazing to me. In my humble-ish opinion, if you collect cards, and you have the appropriate space, they are worth displaying.
A bit of online discussion about my previous patent post got me thinking about the patent lifecycle and the way that patent numbers are printed, or not, on products.
Unlike copyrights,* patents have only a 20-year lifespan. After they expire the patent holder no longer has a monopoly on the design. Printing the patent number on a product is only legal if the patent has not yet expired.**
*which remain active as long as Disney wants them to.
While patents don’t show up on cards very often they do show up on other things we handle all the time. For example pages. When I was a kid in the early 1990s Ultra Pro pages were the fancy new thing. I couldn’t always afford them but I got them when I could. They just felt better at the time and upon revisiting my childhood collection 25 years later the Ultra Pros were the only ones that were still usable.
Yeah I’m still using Ultra Pro pages from before they added the holograph. More importantly for this post, they state “patent pending” which gives us a decent idea as to when the 20 year clock started. There is no patent number listed on the pages I’ve purchased since I rejoined the hobby in 2017. Nor should there be since 2017 is more than 20 years after the early 1990s.
I asked on Twitter if anyone had any Ultra Pro pages from the 2000s and lo and behold, the Twiter hive mind/collection responded.
This page is from around 2010 and lists two patents, 5266150 and 5312507. Presumably UltraPro included these numbers on all their tooling for the ~20 years that those patents were valid and then had to retool once they expired.
Anyway, now that we have numbers let’s take a look. The first thing I found was that the two patents are basically the same. The earlier one, 5266150, is a bit larger and the portion relevant to making the pages was split off into its own patent, 5312507 so we’re only really looking at one patent here. And looking at the timeline we can see when Ultra Pro would’ve been printing a patent number on its sheets
1991-03-08 Priority to US07/666,260
1993-09-10 Application filed by Rembrandt Photo Services
1994-05-17 Application granted
1994-05-17 Publication of US5312507A
2011-05-17 Anticipated expiration
So if you got UltraPros between 1994 and 2011 odds are the patent numbers are on there. This means I just missed getting some of these since I dropped out of the hobby on August 12, 1994 and didn’t get around to paging any of the cards I had purchased that year.
Looking at the rest of the patent, the pictures very clearly show the nine-pocket pages we’re all familiar with but the patent itself is actually about how to weld polypropylene together. A long pull quote from the patent itself explains the problem and in doing so, also describes the nature of card pages in the late 1980s.
Unlike vinyl, attempts to weld polypropylene sheets (as well as other polyolefin sheets) by radio-frequency welding techniques have been in general unsatisfactory. Instead, thermocontact welding is generally employed, although attempts to produce a solid weld seam by thermocontact welding have previously caused the welded sheets to exhibit a tendency to curl or otherwise deform, thought to be a result of polypropylene’s sensitivity to heat. In order to prevent curling or deformation, prior art thermocontact methods for welding polypropylene sheets have utilized discontinuous or intermittent die surfaces for producing discontinuous or intermittent welded seams—i.e. the welded seam is comprised of a sequence or series of welded dots or short dashes with unwelded material between successive dots or dashes.
So many of my childhood pages were vinyl and just did not age well. Thankfully none destroyed my cards. I also had a decent number of pages with seams that were welded in dashes. These did better but I never liked them. There’s a reason why UltraPro became the standard.
The rest of the patent explains how the pages are made. From what I can tell the key distinction is that only one side of the metal die that does the welding is heated. The other is kept cool and I guess this makes the overall operation run cooler so only the seams get heated and the rest of the polypropylene has no chance to thermally deform.
What I found more interesting was that I never gave much thought to how the pages were actually put together with one big sheet of plastic in the back and three narrow strips on the front for each row of pages. I had to read about how the pages were assembled from 4 rolls of plastic* to realize that many of Ultra Pro’s products** are optimized around this arrangement.
*one for the back, 3 for the front.
**Such as its 15-pocket tobacco card pages.
Anyway, I found it an interesting read and decided to see what else UltraPro owned. Most of it wasn’t particularly interesting but one patent did jump out at me.
Yup. We’ve got a one-touch patent. This patent references a patent from a decade earlier for the single-screw cardholder and its main novelty is the replacement of the screw with a pair of magnets. No need to go too in depth on this one since it’s all about the functionality of the design and we’re all familiar with that. But it’s still a fun one to see and I like the idea that it took us from 1994 to 2003 to realize that we could replace a screw with a magnet.
Just a few days before the opening of “Home Base,” my exhibition about the history of baseball in New York City, I received an email from a woman who had been steered my way by the esteemed official historian of Major League Baseball, John Thorn. The content of the email was, mostly, something I have seen before. A family had inherited a baseball card collection. They believed it had some value but were looking for assistance as to which way to best navigate a sale.
In the few years I have been assisting people in selling their collections, I am, at best, usually approached with cards from the 1970s. Often, it’s even more recent and pretty worthless. I’ve disappointed many a soul when I told them that the five Wade Boggs rookie cards they hoarded as a kid weren’t going to make them a millionaire. I’ve reached a point where I understand that such collections aren’t worth the many hours that go into what it takes to inventory, organize and sell a collection, and I pass on the opportunity.
But, this email had two distinctive features. The first was the recommendation from John, who has the wisdom to know if something is the real deal. The second was that this family had already done a considerable amount of inventorying and research in the eight months since their uncle died. They sent me a series of handwritten lists they had created, which told me which sets they had and which cards were missing from each. It was intriguing enough that last week I decided to meet with them to see it in person.
I met the three sisters, Karen, Lynn, and Mary, and their mother, Gertrude. They made me a splendid breakfast and regaled me with stories of their uncle, Johnny Gould. Johnny (the handsome fellow whose picture is at the top of this blog) was born in 1940, was single for most of his life, and was living in the home that belonged to his parents when he died. He was remembered by his family as one who was both “salty and sweet,” a kind soul who was a bit of a reclusive loner. He was also a sports fanatic. All sports. He was a Redskins fan who was the quarterback in many a neighborhood pickup game. He liked basketball and was an avid watcher of golf. But, the true passion of his life was baseball.
As a youth, he pursued a professional career. Among the things he left behind in his collection were an interest letter from the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the business cards of John Whalen and Walter Youse, scouts for the Indians and Orioles, respectively. He signed with the Indians, as a pitcher, and was in their minor league system when an arm injury derailed his fledgling career. After his dreams of major league glory were dashed, he continued to channel his love of the game into collecting. It was an intense romance that resulted in a collection that has brought me to pen this little missive.
I am in the middle of inventorying the first five fifty-gallon storage tubs, and those represent just a portion of the collection. The cataloging process will likely take me several more weeks and as a result, I can’t accurately represent the sheer enormity of it, not just yet. However, I have seen enough that a story is starting to emerge.
Johnny began collecting baseball cards in 1950, when he was a ten-year-old boy. His timing was synchronous with the explosion of the hobby, which had been mostly dormant during World War II. Johnny began with Bowman, the only real game in town at that point. That 1950 offering included what we now think of as key cards for Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, and Yogi Berra. The nickels that Johnny paid for a pack of five cards (or one-card packs for a penny), resulted in him having multiple copies of those legendary players, and more, in this relatively affordable vintage set.
After he experienced the photo-based, lushly painted wonder of the 1950 Bowmans, he clearly became hooked. For the next 13 years he purchased every set that Bowman and Topps produced, with the seeming exception of 1960. The quantities he bought would vary, year to year. He was missing fewer than 50 cards that were produced by Bowman from 1950-1955. From Topps, he had a complete set of 1957, was missing only one (ironically inexpensive) card from the 1956 set, and was only a couple dozen cards shy of completing the sets from 1952-55.
Among the many, many cards that Johnny collected in his teens are some of the most iconic ones in the hobby. He not only owned the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, perhaps second only to the famed T-206 Wagner in terms of desirability by collectors, but he had two 1951 Mantle Bowmans. There are multiple rookie cards for all of the biggest names of baseball’s golden age: Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Al Kaline, and Sandy Koufax are all represented, just to name a few. Johnny also, at one point in his life, started collecting pre-war cards, too. There are 1934-36 Batter Ups and Diamond Stars, 1935 Goudey 4-in-1s, 1933 Eclipse Imports and a fair sprinkling of 1939 Play Balls, including both the Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio rookie cards.
The conditions of the cards vary. At some point he trimmed the ’52 Mantle so he could fit it into his wallet, according to the sisters. Most of the wear is more traditional. It’s clear from the ones dating back to the early years that Johnny loved his cards with a little boy’s enthusiasm. But, as he matured, he started to take better care of his collection. The borders of the 1962 Topps, with their dark faux woodgrain, are remarkably sharp and unchipped.
One habit superseded any desire he may have had to keep his cards pristine. Johnny went through a phase in the mid-’50s where he wanted to learn how to sign an autograph, just like his idols. What better arena in which to learn than on the cards themselves, where manufacturers frequently provided a facsimile signature? Johnny had nine copies of Hank Aaron’s 1956 Topps. Five of them feature what I believe are the sixteen-year-old’s florid attempts at replicating the tight signature of Hammerin’ Hank.
His habit of copying signatures almost made me miss a group of 1953 Bowmans that contain, what I now believe to be, legitimate autographs. At first I was working under the premise that they were also fakes, largely because the Mantle autograph looked so different from his more familiar style, with the half-moon M at the front of both parts of his alliterative moniker. Then, I took a second look. On the cards that were obvious forgeries, Johnny’s youthful attempts at copying the signatures weren’t very good. Not only did they look nothing like the real thing, but they were all obviously written in the same hand. The ’53 Bowmans not only seemed to be by different hands, but the cards themselves do not contain a facsimile to inspire his practice. That realization then triggered the memory that Mantle’s signature, like so many others, evolved over the years. With the help of sportscollectorsdigest.com I found a version of Mantle’s autograph from a similar era. I leave the comparison to you.
Gertrude confirmed that Johnny started taking the bus to Griffith Stadium when he was thirteen. All of the signatures on the ’53 Bowmans, seven in total, were guys who played on American League teams, four of them Yankees. As such, there would have been an opportunity for Johnny to connect with each of them. I’m firmly convinced these signatures are real and will be keeping an eye open for even more examples as I inventory the rest of the collection.
Autographs became very important to Johnny, ultimately overcoming his collection of baseball cards. While he appears to have mostly stopped buying cards around 1962, that year also marks the beginning of when he started a new hobby. Included in the collection are three boxes of envelopes, with approximately 150 envelopes per box. The dates on the postmarks span the years 1962-’97, and come from around the United States. It seems that Johnny wrote the ballclubs (and later in life, professional golfers), and sent them a SASE filled with blank index cards. The teams returned them, signed, with mixed results in terms of player participation. Often, only one player responded, signing multiple cards. Anyone in need of 12 copies of Charlie Spikes’s autograph?
Some of the envelopes, however, have taken my breath away. One postmarked from San Francisco in 1965 contained the autographs of six Hall of Famers, including Orlando Cepeda, Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, Warren Spahn and Willie Mays. Another contained almost the entire starting squad of the 1969 Mets, including Tom Seaver. A third featured many of the 1969 Pirates, including one signed by Roberto Clemente. I had never touched anything that was also once held by Clemente, a personal idol, and the experience left me shaken.
The contents of the card collection itself are a rare experience for many hobbyists. A chance to dive into so many of these legendary pieces of cardboard is a precious opportunity indeed, and I expected to be moved by my discoveries along the way. But, I’m normally not an autograph guy. Even as a child, I found something awkward in asking a player to sign something for me. It felt like an invasion of their space, like I was a thief trying to steal their names. So, it is with no small amount of irony that I find myself most captivated by this collection of envelopes. The sisters did not have time to inventory their contents, so each is a surprise to me, and some of the names I am stumbling across are humbling.
The envelopes have also given me a chance to better understand Johnny Gould, the man. It is one thing for a ten (or twenty) year-old boy to spend a few dimes on packs of baseball cards. But to practice a habit for thirty-five years, carrying it through until well past middle-age, speaks to a particular mind. Lynn pointed out that while many of the cards were stored in literal shoeboxes, the envelopes lived in the top drawer of his dresser, always close at hand. Each one of those envelopes, all of them containing the same D.C. return address written in the same, neat, steady hand, is a testament to a passion I readily recognize. For Johnny, those index cards were transformed from simple squares of paper to direct links to the game that he gave his life to, in his most singular way. I, and likely most of you reading this post on this particular blog, can certainly relate.
I am excited for what the next few weeks hold. There are still plenty of treasures to discover as I prepare to help the family sell their uncle’s legacy. There’s more I’ve already uncovered that I didn’t even mention this time around. Maybe I’ll have to write more about it as I journey down the path. In the meantime, if any of you might be interested in purchasing items from the Gould Collection, feel free to drop me a line at email@example.com. I’ll be over here, touching history.
Those who have visited the memorabilia room (checks with fiancee…okay, GUEST ROOM) at our house know most of my best cards live on the wall. Though there’s some variety to my methods, I most often use top loaders to provide at least some protection of the actual cardboard. This new T205 Brooklyn display (thanks to David at Cigar Box Cards) is a good example.
While the cards are just sitting loose on the “shelves” each is in not only a tobacco size top loader but a penny sleeve as well. I took a similar approach to my Dodger team sets from 1956 and 1957, where cards were first put in sleeves and top loaders before being glued into the frame.
Sometime about a month ago I got to thinking about how even though my main collecting interest is vintage cards the Dodger fan in me really needed a card display honoring the 1988 World Series team. Not being the 1910s or the 1950s I naturally had several choices for sets to draw from: Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, and Score at the very least, and plenty of others if I was okay focusing mainly on stars. Mix and match approaches were possible as well.
Ultimately I decided on 24 cards from the 1989 Topps set, complemented by four cards from the under-the-radar World Series subset unique to the O-Pee-Chee release.
Unfortunately, a funny thing happened to me when I bought my frame, carefully measured to ensure enough room for four rows of 28 cards. They didn’t fit, at least not with the top loaders on them. The best I could do was six rows of three and way too much white space to look good.
Then a strange and foreign thought crossed my mind. Did I even need the top loaders? Did I even need any protection for the cards at all? After all, we were talking about $6 maximum worth of cards. The obvious solution was simply to glue the cards in directly. Besides solving the sizing problem, there would also be less glare in avoiding extra layers of plastic between cardboard and eyeball.
There was only one problem.
I couldn’t do it!
I couldn’t destroy perfectly good baseball cards, no matter how worthless they were. I reached out to my fellow collectors online and realized I wasn’t alone. Yes, some collectors said, “do it!” but most offered suggestions for other methods that would keep the cards intact.
Ultimately I decided that I needed to do it. I needed to not be crazy about a $6 stack of cards. I needed to realize that gluing some cheap cards to a picture frame didn’t make me a bad person or bad collector.
I was that kid standing at the end of the diving board over a cold pool, one step from doing what needed to happen but unable to budge. And then I jumped. And not just any jump. I jumped the shark.
I headed to my magazine shelf and grabbed a Sports Illustrated issue I’d been saving in plastic for more than 30 years. My stomach turned. My throat was dry. I cut off the cover and glued it down.
The process was agonizing for me, but I really liked how the final product turned out. A funny thing that hit me when it was over was that the new design probably could have fit the top loaders after all. Still, less glare, so I’ll call it a win. And really, what did I lose besides a few dollars worth of cards and my baseball card collecting soul?